The world is held together by duct tape

CIA used ‘illegal, inaccurate code to target kill drones’

Netezza illegally and hastily reverse-engineered IISi’s code (targeting software) to deliver a version that produced locations inaccurate by up to 13 metres. Despite knowing about the miscalculations, the CIA accepted the software, court submissions indicate.


I have a theory… or perhaps this should be another of those rules to live by.

The world is held together by duct tape.  By that I mean things that one would expect to be well designed and engineered.. efficient.. safe.. proven etc often times aren’t and it’s only because no one knows about it that that the wheels keep turning as well as they do.  Luckily this doesn’t apply to things like bridges or buildings.. at least here in the US where we have laws about such things.  But there is a whole world of other ‘systems’ out there that,  despite being a Rube-Goldberg collection of moving parts,  are depended on by lots of people and companies in order to function.

I won’t give any names.. but I’ve seen and heard about such situations across a wide range of companies.  Take for instance a particular ‘big 10′ bank that has a certain excel spreadsheet at the core of one of it’s biggest business units.  This spreadsheet is old.. it only works on an obsolete version of excel and is so utterly complicated and hacked together that no one currently working there knows what it does or how it works exactly.  Despite this.. they couldn’t operate without it.. and they spend tons of money on an endless string of consultants to modify it and add features as requirements change which further complicates the mess.  It is also accepted by auditors who.. though they don’t know what it’s doing either.. accept its output at face value.

I’ve seen or heard of similar situations in phone companies.. power companies.. schools.. hospitals..  and lets not even talk about the military.  I’ll go so far as to say this is the norm. This is way too common to be anything but an extension of human nature and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.  I’ve seen plenty of people attempt to fight this. Project managers.. engineers.. auditors etc. Often times they are so over worked that.. while they get the big stuff.. there is still a ton of duct tape down at the level they can’t be bothered with. Everyone knows this.. and that’s just how it is. In time those bits are forgotten and people move on to the next project until the duct tape starts to unravel.. or someone notices.

Currently Reading:

  • ‘Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance’